Opinion

COVID-19 spotlight on the arts

By John Lewis

At last the curtain of Covid isolation is lifting.

It looks like we can start to go about our lives with some familiar sense of routine once more.

A hug or a handshake will be a long way off, but for now we must console ourselves with going back to school, a limited return of community sport, and gatherings of 20 people at home and in cafes.

From Monday we can visit galleries, museums, zoos, drive-in cinemas and historic sites and we can enjoy an overnight stay at a hotel or a camp site.

It's all a bit suck-it-and-see. What exactly is, or is not, allowed needs some careful research on government websites.

This probably won't please the black and white rule observers among us.

But it's a start.

Let's not forget this has never happened before, and there will be grey areas - for instance how far can you travel for a holiday? Can you holiday in another state? Can you shop for clothes? On top of all this, different states have different rules.

This whole thing is going to be long, tedious and awkward for all of us - none more so than for artists.

During the lockdown period, the arts have been a pillar of sanity and connection for many of us.

How many have been glued to original Netflix series made possible by actors, camera and lighting operators, make-up, costume and set design people?

Who hasn't been moved by the brilliant extension of the pub choir to a global level?

Hundreds of people singing the Carpenters’ Close to You or David Bowie's Heroes in harmony across the world was an uplifting light-filled memory I will take away from this whole dark tunnel we are living through.

Locally, it has been a real treat to watch our own artists live-stream their music from Barmah to Wunghnu to central Shepparton with Sam and Sam But Different, Riverlinks Live and Jessica Lorraine all adding ambience and song to our evenings at home. Shepparton Art Museum's online workshops and gallery tours have been a treat. I applaud them all - and those who have made it possible.

But let's not forget the thousands of artists, often young people just starting out on their hopeful careers, who have had their dreams stifled by cancelled performances and exhibitions.

Many of them will slip through the JobKeeper safety net because the nature of their work means they are classed as casual workers. Even their day jobs in restaurants and cafes have disappeared.

We can all help by buying their music and their art online.

We can also help by remembering the $112 billion a year our creative and cultural activity contributes to the Australian economy each year. We can then confidently tell the federal government to return the arts to the status it deserves and take it out of the ridiculously-named Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

Post-Covid we can do better.

A country with no Minister for the Arts is not a nation or even a collective, it's just an economy, and a soulless one at that.